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Lee County Breaks Ground on New Conservation Building

Jason Parrott
Past and present members of the Lee County Board of Supervisors and Lee County Conservation Board help with the groundbreaking for the new Conservation Office near Montrose

Lee County Conservation Director Tom Buckley said it's hard to believe what's going on right outside his office window.

"To see the actual groundwork started and to know that there is a completion date within a few months... is really inspiring," said Buckley.

Some 50 yards away from the office, crews are using backhoes, bobcats, and steam rollers to work the land.  The giant strip of reddish-brown dirt will be the site of the Lee County Conservation Board's new office, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of September.

"I hope the public can come and enjoy watching the process of the building being built," Buckley said.  "Then when we get it done, come and enjoy what will be in the building for people to see to learn a little about the natural history of Lee County."

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
The new Conservation building should be completed by the end of September.

The start of construction surprised Buckley.  He said he was out of town when he got the call that crews would start arriving the week of April 15.

That's why the "groundbreaking" event Monday afternoon was largely ceremonial.

Buckley said this has been a dream of his since he started working for the countymore than 20 years ago.

"Exciting is probably a small word to use for all the time and effort and energy that a lot of people have put into this project," said Buckley.    "

Mother Nature helped make the dream a reality.  A lightning strike more than a year ago severely damaged the Conservation Board's office, a former farmhouse along Highway 61 near Montrose.

Instead of fixing it, the Board looked into the feasibility of building a new facility.  Eventually, the Board of Supervisors got involved, agreeing to borrow money to help pay for the roughly $700,000 project.

"If it wasn't something that was right in front of us during those 20 plus years, it was an idea that we had somewhere near the front burner to try to get it accomplished," Buckley said.  "I think the support of the past (Conservation) Boards, the current (Conservation) Board, the current Board of Supervisors, and the Foundation have all been key factors in getting it completed."

Buckley said his department has been able to defray the county's bonding needs by raising more than $100,000 through private donations and a pledge from the department's foundation.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Crews have been doing site work for about a week.

He said those fundraising efforts will continue next month with a chicken dinner.

The new building will be about 4,100 square feet, which will give the department the space needed to enhance its current offerings.

"We have never had a space where we could accommodate more than 6-8 people at a time," said Buckley.  "We will be able to accommodate school groups of 25-30 kids ... in there."

Buckley said there will also be room for permanent and traveling nature displays and increased space for weekend educational programs.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.